Penang Chief Minister in the spotlight: Malaysia in crisis
Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of Penang, was in London recently but took time-off from his busy schedule to meet some Malaysians and share his thoughts, on a variety of issues. These ranged from the Malaysian mess to Malay votes, the economy to the end of Pakatan, and the challenges of Sarawak, to his choice of a cell-mate. Here is a condensed account of that interview.
- â€œMalaysia is in a mess.â€ What solution does DAP have to take Malaysia out of its predicament?
Malaysia is not in a mess, but in a state of crisis. We have a challenging year ahead and we must not lose hope and faith. Our economy is tanking because of GST, and the ringgit is dropping. Our leaders are not saving the economy but are only saving themselves.
The first step will be a change of leadership. To get to the root of the crisis, Najib Abdul Razak must take a leave of absence. The MACC, the Bank Negara Governor, and IGP are all under the authority of the PM, so they are unable to conduct an independent and neutral investigation of their own boss.
We cannot continue without change. In the short-term Najib must go on leave. In the long term, there must be free and fresh elections, so that a new, clean and legitimate government can be elected.
- According to Zairil Khir Johari, Najibâ€™s approval rating is the lowest of any Malaysian PM, at 27%. Lower even than George Bushâ€™s after the Iraq war. Why is it so difficult to unseat Najib? Is this because the mainstream media is not independent, or is it the fault of an ineffective and disunited opposition?
It is a combination of these factors. In the cities, businesses are closing down. People find it hard to make ends meet. Although there is a yearning of change among the youth, this is not shared by the rural folk. The downturn in the economy does not seem to have affected the rural folk so much, that they demand a change.
- On 6 June, PAS announced that it was severing ties with DAP. On 16 June, Lim Kit Siang announced that Pakatan Rakyat was dead. Did you consult with your other coalition partner PKR, before you announced the end of Pakatan Rakyat? If not, why not?
PAS severed ties with DAP. If they had severed ties with PKR, they would have had to resign all posts and government positions, in the Selangor state government. Why should we consult PKR and put them on the spot? It is not fair to PKR. We indicated to Keadilan what we were going to do. The break with PAS is complete and irrevocable.
- When you formed Pakatan Rakyat, you must have known that hudud was part of PASâ€™ objective. Was DAP ignorant?
The old PAS and the new PAS are two different creatures. The PAS of old had progressive leaders. They always said that whilst hudud was part of the struggle of PAS, they knew that they had to bide their time. Hadi Awang claimed that he was the sole arbiter. That was not the arrangement, when we formed PR. Hadi was acting against the spirit of Pakatan. Our decision was not taken on the spur of the moment.
- Is Selangorâ€™s Pakatan government still alive or dead?
Pakatan Rakyat is dead. It is a reality and it is something that Azmin Ali, the Selangor MB will have to deal with. When you do not have PAS and DAP on the same page, how can there be a Pakatan Rakyat? Is it just not sustainable or viable, any more.
- Will you form a PR-Mark 2 coalition?
Why donâ€™t we cross our bridges, when we come to them.
- Your policies are threatening the environment of Penang, you are beholden to the developers, development is damaging the hills and the sea-bed, you are known as the Developers Action Party, and there is hardly any sustainable development.
We run the best heritage conservation in Malaysia, and this has been acknowledged by Unesco. We enforce all the necessary building codes. Penang is cleaner and greener. We stand by what we have achieved.
- Can you win GE-14?
Yes, we can win GE-14. If we can gain an extra 2% of the votes, we will have a majority of 54%. The extra 2% that we need to win will equate to 20 or 30 extra seats, because of election gerrymandering; nevertheless, this is achievable, because of the boost that 1MDB has given to us. I have great faith in all Malaysians, including those from Sabah and Sarawak, to vote for us.
- As the people of East Malaysia become more assertive, they demand a bigger share of the economic pie and a bigger say in the running of their country. How is DAP responding to these challenges?
Sabah and Sarawak are equal partners. Without them, there is no Malaysia. They are not one of the 14 â€œstatesâ€, they are one of the three territories which are Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia. The East Malaysians see the beautiful highways in peninsular Malaysia, but they have none. They only get 5% of the oil royalties, and are not able to enjoy the resources of oil and gas. East Malaysians are very unhappy. For them to live in dignity, we must honour our agreement with them. It is a shame that Sabah has the highest number of poor people, despite its wealth.
- You were jailed twice, first, in 1987, in Operation Lalang, under the Internal Security Act (ISA) , and for Sedition, in 1994, for defending a Malay victim of statutory rape. Mat Sabu was also jailed in Operation Lalang and your friendship with him, continues to this day. If you were to be jailed again, who would be your cell mate of choice, and why?
If I were to be detained again, I would be placed in solitary confinement. I donâ€™t think Putrajaya will allow a cell mate for me.
(NB: 1) This article appeared in FMT under a different title on 18 July 2015)
2) I will post further articles on what he said the day we had a conversation in London (12 July 2015).Â It was a lively exchange and the audience posed some tricky questions.
3) There are other points which he expressed, which I will write in further detail.
4) With the short time available, it was not possible to ask all the questions on my list, but please bear with me. I will ask him on another occasion. I am confident he will not mindÂ to another dialogue in future.